Wend your way through stunning scenary on a drive to the South of France
This year I have been lucky enough to visit La Belle France twice already and this wonderful country never fails to disappoint. Back in the spring, I explored the delights of Paris for our travel pages but on my latest adventure I was taken to the other end of the country, to the playground of the rich and famous, namely, the French Riviera.
With the Cannes Film Festival breathing a fresh sense of glamour over the city every year and Rihanna currently partying on a yacht with British supermodel, Cara Delevingne, the French Riviera is more fashionable than ever.
With direct flights from London and helicopter transfers to surrounding areas available from Nice, many escaping the British Isles during the summer months opt to fly. However, I wanted to try something different. Instead I packed my suitcases into a Land Rover, jumped behind the wheel and began the long drive south with The Sloaney travel team.
While driving significantly extends the journey time, it gives you a wonderful opportunity to explore areas that you would normally only see from an aeroplane window. The first leg involved the trip from London to the white cliffs of Dover where a P&O ferry awaited to whisk us off to Calais.
P&O offer a Club Lounge service that includes priority boarding. We were duly given a lane to ourselves and boarded the boat first, with prime exit position. This is a significant advantage when it comes to disembarking and starting the longer leg of the journey through France. As a Club Lounge passenger, you have access to the suite area on board, where every guest is greeted with a glass of champagne. You also have a private deck complete with loungers and comfortable seating. By the time you have boarded, sipped some bubbles and enjoyed a three-course meal in the restaurant you will have docked on the other side of the Channel.
Our final destination was a luxurious villa in the hills overlooking Cannes. Driving the whole way is a substantial task, even if you have a second driver. I shared this task but we also stopped off at several small villages on the way, which gave us a chance to enjoy the scenery and note the changing culture as we entered different provinces.
It is difficult to recommend where to stop for your lunch break as it depends how far you want to drive. If you take a break from the peage and follow a winding country road for several miles, you will undoubtedly be rewarded by a delicious, authentic French meal. Some of the best meals that we enjoyed were during these spontaneous breaks.
For an overnight stop, I recommend visiting Lyon. At this stage you will have broken the back of the journey and this city has plenty to offer when it comes to atmospheric bars and restaurants. If you arrive at dusk the cathedral will be lit up on the hillside and presents a dramatic view. The Hôtel Le Royal Lyon is part of the MGallery Collection and offers a comfortable five-star base for the evening, within a traditional boutique hotel.
Dijon, which is the home of mustard and the capital of Burgundy is also an appealing place to stop. Here you can enjoy fine dining at the superb Pre aux Clercs, which is located in the square at the base of the dramatic Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne. It is well worth visiting the famous burgundy producing villages of Nuit Saint George and Chevry Chambertin.
After an overnight break, I awoke the next day with the same excited ‘holiday feeling’ as when I left London. This is another bonus of driving as it prolongs the anticipation. As we ventured further South the temperatures began to rise and we passed more and more fields of lavender in full bloom. By the time we arrived in Grasse, you could almost smell the intense heat, as well as the perfumeries.
The villa was a luxurious second home that is rented out by the owners during the summer period. It is located in Chateauneuf de Grasse. The high-spec interior is supplemented by a welcome plunge pool and large roof terrace that boasts stunning, panoramic views of the bay of Cannes.
As I was mixing a bit of work with some holiday, much of the week was spent relaxing in the plush and homely surroundings of the villa. It was lovely to simply hideaway on a summer break, whilst enjoying a peaceful atmosphere and beautiful scenery. The advantage of the South of France is that exceptional local food and wine is freely available, which means you can have lots of gourmet BBQs.
I ventured to the beach in Cannes for some waterskiing and sunbathing, whilst also taking some time to browse some of the high end designer boutiques. Chanel and Louis Vuitton take pride of place on the promenade. If you are visiting the beach from a villa in the hills, rather than as a guest of the seafront hotels, I recommend choosing a beach club.
The Majestic Barrière is just a short stroll away from the world famous Palais de Festivals, along the chic Boulevard de la Croisette. This is an idyllic setting where you can relax on your very own private beach on the Riviera. This is also the main place for some of the world’s top film and TV stars to stay during the Film Festival. Lunch on the seafront or the hotel’s pier is special.
As the ten day break drew to a close, the prospect of the long drive back to England loomed. Whilst it was exciting on the way down, I was partly tempted to abandon the car and hop on a flight home from Nice. However, I was quickly reminded that on our return we would be stopping off in Reims to visit one of the world’s largest producers of champagne. The prospect of learning the history and visiting the impressive cellars located at Pommery certainly gave the holiday another lease of life.
As we packed our suitcases in the villa, the tinge of sadness at the thought of leaving this wonderful part of the world quickly vanished when I set aside an overnight bag and our filming equipment for a visit to the home of champagne. You can watch the film here…